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Proxim to support rival wireless standard

The company will be offering its wireless networking kits with added technology standards supported by 3Com, Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies and others.

Wireless company Proxim Technologies is subscribing to the old axiom: If you can't beat them, join them.

Proxim, which sells a popular line of wireless networking kits to consumers and businesses, has historically built its technology using its own proprietary wireless standard. Now the firm plans to support a faster wireless standard supported by rivals 3Com, Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies and others.

Proxim today announced new wireless networking kits for businesses, schools, hospitals and other workplaces that allow people with laptops to move around while staying connected to the Internet and corporate network. A Proxim executive said new products will support Proxim's own proprietary Open Air wireless standard, the current industry standard called 802.11B that is five times faster, and other forthcoming wireless standards that will be even faster.

Yankee Group analyst Karuna Uppal said it is vital for Proxim to support the new, faster industry standard, and that its plan to make products compatible to all current and future standards is a smart move.

"They have to continue to support their own Open Air standard because they have a big installed base in businesses and can't leave them hanging," Uppal said. "And they have to support 802.11B because it's an industry standard and it's gaining momentum."

Proxim competes in a market expected to grow from $471 million in 1999 to $2.2 billion in 2004, according to market researcher Cahners In-Stat Group. And nearly every networking firm, including Cabletron Systems, is supporting the 802.11B standard, which runs at 11 megabits-per-second.

"The biggest feedback we got from our customers was, 'help us deal with multiple standards out there,'" said Lynn Chroust, Proxim's director of product marketing. "This allows them to make transitions (to different wireless standards) in the least disruptive way."

Proxim plans to ship its new family of wireless networking products, called Harmony, in October. The kits include notebook PC cards that have radio transmitters and receivers built in and hardware called "access points" that are affixed to ceilings or walls and wirelessly link computers to an Internet connection.

Chroust said Proxim has created a new piece of hardware, or "access point," that ties both the Proxim Open Air and the 802.11B wireless standards together, allowing them to communicate. Businesses that currently use Proxim's older networking kits can support the new 802.11B standard without having to replace their existing technology, she said.